As the Arizona State Sun Devils contest with the Washington Huskies grows closer, we wanted to get the inside scoop on the Huskies. Who, like the Sun Devils, sit at 4-5 and have lost three of their last four games.
We asked our friends over at UW Dawg Pound for some inside information on the Huskies. One of the fine site managers there, Kirk DeGrasse, was kind enough to answer some questions for us and he was so thorough we decided to break it up into two parts. Enjoy part one of our discussion with Kirk.
House of Sparky: With Chris Peterson in his second season, how would you asses the overall state of the program?
Kirk DeGrasse: The program is in a transition phase, but things look very bright, possibly as soon as next season. Chris Petersen is a very different type of coach from Steve Sarkisian and has different priorities for how to build a team, and there have been some growing pains as the program goes through a significant culture shift.
Sark gravitated towards edgy, flashy players and was willing to take risks on recruits that were iffy to qualify. Petersen has his "OKG" (Our Kinda Guy) thing and preaches that his program is about "Built For Life". Those are fancy buzzword ways of saying he's looking for kids that are hard-working and value developing themselves on and off the field.
While Petersen isn't going to avoid a kid with low grades, he needs to be convinced that the kid is going to be able to handle his studies at the university level.
There are a lot of first and second-year players starting or getting extensive playing time this season, and while that's resulting in some predictable inconsistent play, it should pay off down the road. The defense is already in a very good position as they will return most of this year's unit, and the offense is even younger and should build off this season's experience.
Recruiting is also going well as Petersen has done a very good job landing terrific players on both sides of the line of scrimmage and the defensive secondary, and clearly has his QB and RB for at least the next two seasons. While the Huskies are an also-ran in the North this season, they should be challenging for the North title by 2017 and could make a run next season.
HoS: Washington has lost three games by six points or less. Which one of those losses hurt the most?
KG: The easy answer is Oregon. Ending the now 12-game losing streaks to the Ducks is priority #1 for the vast majority of Husky fans, and this season seemed a prime (though somewhat surprising) opportunity to do so. Were it not for Vernon Adams returning to the lineup, I think the result would have been different.
But really, they all sting. This team can still make a bowl game, but getting to six wins assumes we beat Oregon State and knock off one of ASU or WSU. Certainly doable, but having 5 wins right now instead of 4 would mean the difference between the Huskies almost certainly bowling and jockeying for a "better" bowl vs. scrambling just to get bowl-eligible.
HoS: True freshman quarterback Jake Browning has been good this season (at least for a true freshman). How would you describe his game and what improvements have you seen from the young signal caller?
KG: While I wouldn't say he's got a weak arm, Browning isn't going to wow anyone with his arm strength either. What he does is throw with terrific anticipation and a lot of accuracy. As he gains more experience he also shows more and more command of the offense and good decision-making. He never had to be a scrambler in high school as he played behind a terrific line, so he's had to adapt at the college level and has shown surprising mobility.
He's not a run-first guy by any means, but he's getting better and tucking and running when wide open lanes exist, and he's improved a lot at stepping up in the pocket in the face of pressure. He gets some comparisons to Kellen Moore, and if you imagined Moore as right-handed, a few inches taller and with a bit more arm strength, that's probably not a bad comp. His ceiling appears very high, and it will be fun for Husky fans to watch his growth.
HoS: Q: Washington lost three first round draft picks on defense (Shaq Thompson, Marcus Peters, Danny Shelton). Which player's loss has affected the Huskies the most?
KG: That's a tough one. All were terrific players (obviously), but what's been amazing about this defense is how well the Huskies have been able to back fill. As great as Danny Shelton was - and how tough it is to find true, dominating nose tackles - the drop off to Elijah Qualls has been minimal. Marcus Peters was a terrific talent, but his temper meant he only played in 8 games last year, and both Darren Gardenhire and Kevin King have played well opposite Sidney Jones.
That drop-off is greater than Shelton to Qualls though. But I'd go with Shaq Thompson. He was a dynamic play-maker last year, always seeming to be around the ball as he had 4 defensive scores last year. Keishawn Bierria is a pretty good LB and has improved quite a bit, but that's probably the biggest drop-off of the three.
Check back for the second part of our interview with Kirk tomorrow.